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watching nbc bay area news. at 5:00, we have nbc nightly news coming up next, we'll be back with more local news. on this sunday night, battle lines. if you thought the fiscal cliffhanger was bad, just you wait. major showdowns are on the horizon and there's word tonight that the president is about to throw down the gauntlet over his pick to lead the pentagon. growing outrage over a case involving an alleged sexual assault and members of a high school football team. it's attracting national attention while tearing one small town apart. follow the money. one was supposed to avert financial disaster, the other, aid victims of sandy. so, why were these urgently passed bills loaded with hundreds of millions for everything from hollywood and nascar to rummakers and algae growers? and british invasion. it's happening tonight and the excitement is building.
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>> when i'm with her, i'm reminded of the virtues of the english. >> isn't she american? >> exactly. >> lords and ladies across america preparing for the highly anticipated return of "downton abbey." good evening. president obama is back from his vacation tonight and fresh off the fiscal showdown, he is already girding for what's expected to be the next political showdown. tonight, nbc news can confirm he will wade right back into the fray tomorrow by nominating former senator chuck hagel as the next secretary of defense. at face value, the pick of a longtime republican lawmaker for the job could be seen as a rare act of bipartisanship in a sharply divided town. but tonight, opponents on both sides of the aisle are sharpening their claws for what could be a testy confirmation
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fight. nbc white house correspondent peter alexander joins us from washington now with more. hello, peter. >> reporter: lester, good evening to you. with the fiscal cliff crisis barely in our rearview mirror, the white house's decision to pick chuck hagel as secretary of defense is likely to ignite a contentious confirmation battle. congress is out of session this week, but already, talk of the pick is generating stiff opposition. fresh off his hawaiian vacation, president obama is already facing heated debate over his expected pick of former nebraska senator chuck hagel for secretary of defense. >> a person who has a resume that includes service on the foreign relations committee as well as the intelligence committee. yes, he is a serious candidate. >> i think it's an incredibly controversial choice and it looks like the second term of barack obama is going to be an in-your-face term. >> reporter: if nominated and confirmed, hagel would be the first enlisted soldier, the first purple heart-decorated
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vietnam veteran to serve as defense secretary. the independent-minded member clashed with his own party, opposing the iraq war. >> the most divisive issue in this country since vietnam. >> reporter: and lately fiercely criticizing president bush's iraq troop surge. hagel angered pro-israel groups with his opposition to unilateral sanction against iran and comments critical to what he called the jewish lobby. >> you have somebody very antagonistic toward the state of israel and the issues we jointly face. and there is no jewish lobby. there is a pro-israel lobby. >> reporter: on "meet the press," the president recently weighed in on the possible choice. >> my number one criteria will be who's going to do the best job in helping to secure america. >> anything disqualify him? >> not that i see. i have served with chuck hagel. i know him. he is a patriot. >> reporter: and even with the fiscal cliff fight behind him, the president faces another looming showdown over the nation's debt ceiling, its borrowing limit. today, senate minority leader mitch mcconnell insisted the tax issue is resolved but demanded
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spending cuts. >> i wish the president would lead us in this discussion rather than putting himself in a position of having to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to discuss the single biggest issue confronting our future. >> reporter: also tonight, an administration official tells nbc news that the president is likely to name his selection for cia director tomorrow, the person who would replace david petraeus. the two men who are being considered as top candidates right now are the homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to the president, john brennan, and on the left of your screen you see the acting cia head, mike morrall. lester? >> thank you. in addition to the battles over the debt ceiling and cabinet nominations, the president has a lot more on his plate in the coming weeks, including a fight over guns after the tragedy in newtown. and there's word tonight about what the obama administration is planning to do. we get our report from nbc's mark potter. >> reporter: in aurora, colorado, scene of last year's
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moviehouse massacre, officials say a gunman killed three people in a home before firing at police. >> the suspect was hit and he has been pronounced dead. >> reporter: this as lawmakers call for more action. >> we will not have as the new normal a mass shooting every month. >> reporter: gun shows near orlando and atlanta drew huge crowds this weekend, but the decision to hold a gun collector's show near newtown, connecticut, where the school shootings occurred, drew mixed reactions. >> it seems insensitive to have the event continue. >> i believe that they should have the gun show. >> reporter: later this month, vice president biden's gun violence task force, formed in response to the newtown shootings, is expected to give its recommendations, which could involve much more than just a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips. the "washington post" reports the group could also include stiffer penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors, track gun movement and sales and strengthen mental health and background
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investigations. >> the more constructive conversation is going to be around background checks and what we can do to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. >> reporter: the report also claims the white house may be looking for ways to work around the nra, but in nbc's "meet the press" today, republican senate leader mitch mcconnell said guns are not an immediate priority. >> there will be plenty of time to take a look at their recommendations once they come forward. the -- what's going to nominate washington for the next three months here is going to be spending and debt. >> reporter: president obama though has promised that gun violence is an issue he will not put off. mark potter, nbc news, miami. turning overseas now to the crisis in syria and a rare public speech today from that country's embattled president, bashar al assad. nbc's stephanie gosk monitoring developments for us tonight from cairo. stephanie, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, lester. bashar al assad does not show up in public much these days. his last speech was back in
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june. he spoke live today to his country, conceding nothing and as defiant as ever. in a packed opera theater in damascus, supporters jumped to their feet and cheered for syria's president. "we will die for you," they shouted. the syrian leader did propose a new political solution to syria's conflict, a cease-fire, national reconciliation. eventually, a new constitution. but most of his address seemed to prove just how far off that possibility really is. he called the opposition terrorists, puppets of the west. assad said his government will not negotiate until regional countries stop funding rebel fighters. >> he still thinks that much of the opposition is fundamentally illegitimate. he blames them for the violence. he is trying to remind his foreign sponsors in places like iran and russia that he still is interested in a fight. >> reporter: the united nations
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estimates that the nearly two-year-long conflict has killed 60,000 people. efforts to broker a political deal are deadlocked. >> more syrians will die in 2013 than 2012. it will be a carnage, a bloodbath. >> reporter: activists say one of the deadliest attacks in recent days was at a gas station in damascus, killing nine. around the country, people are suffering, thousands cut off from electricity, water and food. there are hundreds of thousands of refugees, including this woman in a camp in jordan. "bashar only speaks," she says. "if he was right, he would not make us homeless, he would not destroy our homes." today, assad blamed all of his country's hardships on the opposition. he gave no sign he will ever leave syria. and when the speech ended, the resolute president was swarmed. his security team forced to push adoring supporters away. the leadership of the opposition say they won't negotiate as long
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as assad is in power. and this evening, the u.s. state department responded to the speech, saying this was just another attempt by the regime to hold on to that power. lester? >> stephanie gosk in cairo tonight. thanks. tonight, crews searching off the coast of venezuela are entering the third night with no sign of a plane carrying italian fashion executive vittorio missoni, his wife and four others, missing after the plane disappeared during a flight on friday. missoni is ceo of his family's iconic fashion house. venezuela's government says it will continue the search until the airplane is found. in a small ohio town, where the local high school football team is a very big deal, the accusation that two of its players raped a teenaged girl has sparked outrage. questions over the pace of justice, favoritism and influence have ripped that town apart and thrust it into the national spotlight. nbc's ron allen reports from stubenville, ohio. >> reporter: stubenville, ohio, is a struggling, old industrial town that's seen better times.
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its greatest glory now comes from the big red, its powerhouse high school football team that just about everyone here is connected and devoted to. >> let's be clear. they knew she was drunk. >> reporter: that's why the upcoming rape trial of two star football players, malik richmond and trent mays, named publicly in court, their faces concealed because they are 16, is rocking this community. they have pleaded not guilty. >> shame on you! >> reporter: with hundreds of protesters supporting the 16-year-old accuser, known only as jane doe, who prosecutors insist was subjected to several sexual assaults against her will. the case exploding on social media, images purporting to show the defendants carrying the alleged victim, unconscious, the night in question. and video showing teenagers making fun of the girl, released by online activists, including the group, anonymous. >> you can hide no longer. >> reporter: most known for hacking into government websites to expose what it sees as wrongdoing.
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it accuses the town of turning a blind eye to other athletes allegedly involved, to protect the beloved big red nation. police say even though the behavior seen online is offensive, only two young men actually committed a crime. >> to take anything to a court of law, you have to have evidence for the prosecutor to prosecute that case. >> reporter: the case is so emotional in this small, closely knit community that the original presiding judge had to be replaced with someone from out of town. two special prosecutors also were brought in, with no ties stubenville high school or its football team. defense attorney walter madison says he still wants to move the case away from here because witnesses who support his client are reluctant to come forward. >> we feel that there was consent. >> and no force? >> there was no force. >> how do you get past the criticism that a lot of people are going to have that essentially, you, your client, are blaming the victim for what happened? >> i don't think you -- i don't think you can. and i can't control that.
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>> reporter: meanwhile, the alleged victim's family, the activists online and in the streets, insist they are determined to hold the two football stars and anyone else involved accountable. ron allen, nbc news, stubenville, ohio. after more than a decade of denials, now comes word that lance armstrong has told associates that he is considering admitting to using a performance-enhancing drugs during his career. "the new york times," citing unnamed sources, is reporting that armstrong is considering a confession to help restore his career in triathlons and other athletic events. armstrong's attorneys have denied that their client has reached out to anti-doping officials about any possible confession. also today, the nhand the players union reached a tentative agreement to end the 113-day nhl lockout. the deal, for which owners and players will vote on tuesday. it is likely the last chance to salvage what's left of the 2012/2013 nhl season. if it passes, play could begin as early as next tuesday.
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still ahead as we continue on nightly news, billions of dollars to avert financial disaster and to aid victims of sandy, but why were these urgently passed bills loaded with cash for everything from hollywood to nascar? and later, making a difference for men and women serving half a world away, eager for small reminders of home.
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we're back now with a closer look at those urgently passed bills to avert the fiscal cliff and to provide much-needed relief for victims of super storm sandy. turns out, they are loaded with tons of cash for things totally unrelated. critics are crying foul and some say it amounts to a fleecing of america.
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our senior investigative correspondent, lisa myers, is on the money trail. >> reporter: the nation's debt is almost $16.5 trillion and increasing at the astounding rate of $140 million an hour. so, the president and congress agreed last week to increase taxes. >> tonight's agreement further reduces the deficit by raising $620 billion in revenue from the wealthiest households in america. >> reporter: what they didn't advertise was that the bill to avert the so-called fiscal cliff also was stuffed with billions of what critics call corporate tax giveaways for certain hollywood films, $430 million. nascar racetrack owners, $78 million. puerto rican rummakers, $220 million. and algae growers, $59 million. >> to use vehicles that are must-pass, which are the lobbyists' ticket on board the
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gravy train is sad and cynical commentary on the way washington does business. >> reporter: nascar says its write-off increases investment in construction, which results in desperately needed jobs. supporters of other breaks also say they foster research, create jobs and help companies compete. still, experts say over two years, the special tax breaks for business largely wipe out the $86 billion raised by increasing taxes on the wealthy. >> so where did all that money from letting the tax cuts expire for the rich go? they gave it right back to big business. >> reporter: so, despite all the rhetoric about cutting the deficit, washington still seems to be engaging in business as usual, doling out money through tax breaks and special projects. take that $60 billion emergency bill passed by the senate to help victims of superstorm sandy. much of that money is desperately needed for recovery, but not all. >> many billions of dollars in this bill has nothing to do with helping the victims of sandy. >> reporter: taxpayer watchdog
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groups complain that buried in this emergency bill is money for amtrak projects, fisheries in alaska and mississippi and new cars for the justice department. >> it's like they don't get it that we've got the warning siren going on the debt crisis, and yet they want to do things just the way they've always done. >> reporter: the ultimate losers, experts says, are americans asked to pay more taxes or to give up benefits. lisa meyers, nbc news, washington. when we come back, tonight's the night for fans of one of the biggest british imports since the beatles.
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thought you might have been walking on stilts. >> do you think we should say something to your mother when she gets here? >> no.
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back now with a reason a lot of folks across the country are dressed to the nines tonight, party guests on the list, dinner in the dining room, tea and drinks to follow on the couch, all to celebrate the return of a tv favorite. we get more now from nbc's lady michelle franzen. >> what should we call each other? >> well, we could always start with mrs. crawly and lady grantham. >> reporter: "downton abbey," the british series where the old world of privilege and place
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collides with the new, casual society. >> when i'm with her, i'm reminded of the virtues of the english. >> but isn't she american? >> exactly. >> reporter: the finale of season two drew nearly 5.5 million viewers here in the u.s., one of the top-rated shows for pbs. and tonight, in season three, grandmama, martha levinson, played by shirley maclaine, is the latest dose of american influence to cross the pond. >> oh, dear, i'm afraid the war has made old women of us both. >> oh, i wouldn't say that, but then i always keep out of the sun. >> reporter: in an interview with "rock center," series creator julian fellows. >> what is marvelous is you've got the figure of violet, you know, maggie smith who place the dowager, and she essentially is nostalgic for the old world. whereas shirley maclaine's
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character, martha levinson, thinks all this change is great. >> reporter: all of this change will be watched closely by fans, and in some cases, at "downton abbey"-themed parties around the country where dressing the part is just as much a part of the fun. natalie blake searched for a '20s-style hat at a new york vintage store for a party tonight. >> it's so different, the prim and properness of it. >> reporter: the show has created a demand for vintage frocks from the jazz era. >> it's been a huge boom for us. >> reporter: along with the costumes, the sweeping scenery and epic love stories. >> will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? >> yes. >> reporter: are what keep fans of this upstairs-downstairs drama coming back for more. michelle franzen, nbc news, new york. and speaking of our friends across the pond, take a look at these rare color photographs of the beatles from the '60s, snapped during their first u.s. tour in 1964. they were taken by an american doctor and never published. the photos will be auctioned off march 22nd, 50 years to the day after the fab four released its first album. up next here tonight, how
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one extraordinary woman drafted a volunteer army to make a difference and let a lot of american heroes know they are not forgotten.
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few military units have marched off to war more than the army's 3rd infantry division,
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which is currently commanding security operations in southern afghanistan. to the folks who live around the 3rd i.d.'s home base near savannah, georgia, members of the division are more than soldiers, they're neighbors, they're part of the community. and tonight, we have a story of one woman on the home front who is making a difference for the local troops when they are far from home. dawn on a recent friday, a ritual that has become all too familiar at airfields like this across the country, deployment day. >> check your battle buddy. >> reporter: it's a drill the men and women serving in the united states armed forces know by heart. so does carol mcgaflin, a retiree and private citizen who has attended almost every deployment of the army's 3rd infantry division since 2007. >> i wanted to really be involved in the war effort. i mean, i wanted to contribute in some concrete way. >> carol's contribution, pairing
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service members deploying to war zones with what she calls adopted families or sponsors. >> they just want contact with ordinary civilian life. that's what we try to provide. >> reporter: since starting the adopt-a-soldier program nearly six years ago, carol estimates the number of service members who have been adopted has surpassed 15,000. >> i thought it would be a good program for new soldiers like myself that would love to receive mail over in afghanistan. >> it's always good to feel appreciated, you know, and see the people that are supporting us, that believe in us. >> reporter: cards, care packages and letters are sent by families to soldiers eager for reminders of home. >> "thank you for your service. you have given the ultimate sacrifice." >> reporter: whether a care package from the states or a simple thanks from a stranger, these acts of kindness go a long way here on the front lines, as we found in afghanistan this fall. >> there are people all across the globe that are supporting us in their own way. >> that stuff means something, doesn't it?
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>> oh, yeah, it really does. >> it goes a long way? >> yeah, absolutely, because they're recognizing soldiers for their service. >> and for sponsors like jody and david dubek, who organize regular packing parties with their neighbors, recognizing service members has been quite personal. >> you relate to a lot of them like a mother and they're really just there to protect their family and their country. >> when you think the hardships that they are under and the risks they take, sending a few slim jims, it's not really a big deal. >> reporter: a simple gift that goes a very long way. >> "have i said thank you for your service lately." >> we are told the adopt-a-soldier program has created a number of friendships that have lasted well beyond their deployments. that's "nbc nightly news" for this sunday. brian williams will be here tomorrow. we hope you will stick around and join me later for "dateline." i'm lester holt.
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